Calcium-channel number critically influences synaptic strength and plasticity at the active zone

Nat Neurosci. 2012 Jun 10;15(7):998-1006. doi: 10.1038/nn.3129.


How synaptic-vesicle release is controlled at the basic release structure, the active zone, is poorly understood. By performing cell-attached current and capacitance recordings predominantly at single active zones in rat calyces, we found that single active zones contained 5-218 (mean, 42) calcium channels and 1-10 (mean, 5) readily releasable vesicles (RRVs) and released 0-5 vesicles during a 2-ms depolarization. Large variation in the number of calcium channels caused wide variation in release strength (measured during a 2-ms depolarization) by regulating the RRV release probability (P(RRV)) and the RRV number. Consequently, an action potential opened ∼1-35 (mean, ∼7) channels, resulting in different release probabilities at different active zones. As the number of calcium-channels determined P(RRV), it critically influenced whether subsequent release would be facilitated or depressed. Regulating calcium channel density at active zones may thus be a major mechanism to yield synapses with different release properties and plasticity. These findings may explain large differences reported at synapses regarding release strength (release of 0, 1 or multiple vesicles), P(RRV), short-term plasticity, calcium transients and the requisite calcium-channel number for triggering release.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Calcium Channels / physiology*
  • Calcium Channels / ultrastructure
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Organ Culture Techniques
  • Random Allocation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure
  • Synaptic Vesicles / physiology*
  • Synaptic Vesicles / ultrastructure


  • Calcium Channels